How Are Toyota Embracing Fuel Cell Technology For Trucks?

Louise Smyth

Toyota Kenworth, the Port of Los Angeles and the California Air Resources Board (CARB) have teamed up for an ambitious trial featuring trucks powered by fuel cells.

The vehicle is a Kenworth Class 8 model with twin Toyota T680 fuel cells mounted under the cab floor. The power electronics units that control it are mounted towards the front, with the battery pack and hydrogen storage behind, leading to the motor transmission then on to the rear wheels. Everything is designed to be packaged within the conventional chassis.

Why Do Trucks Need Fuel Cells?

Ten of the Kenworth Class 8 models with the new fuel cells will go into use during the project, the first has already been delivered. The project is part of CARB’s US$41million Zero-and-Near-Zero Emission Freight Facilities Project (ZANZEFF), which moves freight around the Ports of Los Angeles Logistics Services, United Parcel Services, Total Transportation Services and Southern Countries Express.

Altogether there are some 16,000 trucks working around the Los Angeles and Long Beach port complexes, which is North America’s largest gateway for containerised cargo. That number is estimated to grow to 32,000 by 2030. Currently more than 43,000 drayage trucks are in operation at ports across the USA.

How Are The Fuel Cells Stored?

To overcome the issue of storage and hydrogen production, a tri-gen plant is scheduled for completion in 2020. It uses a carbonate fuel cell stack to convert bio-waste (from biogas) to hydrogen then to electricity. It will also use some of the hydrogen created in the process to refuel the fuel cell vehicles.

Russ Koble from Toyota Motor North America explains: “Hydrogen is produced in a tri-gen system through a steam reforming process, but the steam and heat needed for reforming are byproducts of the power generation process, so there is no need to burn fuel and no need to supply water. In fact it is a new water producer. 

The co-production of power with hydrogen provides an additional value stream that reduces the cost of the hydrogen. This, combined with the fact that the hydrogen is produced locally, avoiding transportation costs and emissions makes it competitive with the conventional large scale central steam reforming”.

Two high-capacity stations will be developed by Shell in Wilmington and Ontario, California. The new stations will join three additional stations in development located at Toyota facilities around Los Angeles to form an integrated, five-station, heavy-duty hydrogen fuelling network.

Koble continues: “Together, they will provide multiple sources of hydrogen throughout the region, including over 1 ton of 100% renewable hydrogen per day at the heavy-duty station to be operated by Shell, enabling zero-emissions freight transport. Existing stations supplied by Air Liquide at Toyota Logistics Services in Long Beach and Toyota Technical Centre in Gardena will serve as important research and development locations”.

Once on board, the fuel is stored at 10.000psi. It sounds high but this is one of the features of hydrogen - low-pressure storage just wouldn’t give an acceptable range.  These trucks have a target of 300 miles between refills, which equates to two days work on a typical delivery route.

How Safe Are The Fuel Cells?

Kenworth and Toyota have worked hard together to ensure safety, Koble confirms. “The hydrogen tanks have been extensively tested for durability, repeated filing cycles and extreme conditions such as fire. These tests have demonstrated that the tanks can safely support daily operating condition and Heavy-Duty Fuel Cell Trucks will be able to safely perform cargo hauls in and around the ports of Los Angeles”.

The proof of concept generates 560hp from the two Mirai fuel cell stacks and a 12kWh battery.  Importantly, this is a relatively small battery to support class 8 load operations. Torque is sufficient to move a fully loaded truck at 80,000lbs from a complete stop at a 20% gradient. 

The waste - water - is exhausted through a port below the vehicle.

How Are Honda Using Fuel Cells In Vehicles?

It’s not just the truck market showing an interest in fuel cells, and in particular California with its refilling infrastructure is advancing all the time.

In April, Honda Clarity fuel cell cars started appearing at Honda dealerships in the Los Angeles and Orange County areas, the San Francisco Bay Area and in Sacramento.

Instead of selling them, Honda has chosen to lease at $379 per month for 36 months with a $2,878 down payment. As it’s California customers are eligible for a $5,000 rebate.

Honda have invested heavily in California’s hydrogen refuelling network, spending more than $14million.  There are now nearly 40 retail hydrogen stations across the state and the company claims two thirds of its sales will be EVs of one sort or another by the year 2030.

Is The Use Of Alternative Fuels Helping The Environment?

Although fuel cells may or may not be the future, CARB is also keeping its finger on the pulse of the present. In May it release the 2018 report into the use of alternative fuels by more conventional engines.  

Executive officer Richerd Corey says: “Renewable and biodiesel, renewable natural gas, ethanol and electricity are all seeing growth under the Low Carbon Fuel Standard. Californians have the widest variety of cleaner low-carbon vehicles available anywhere in the country. 

The LCFS is catalysing investments in there cleaner alternative fuels, providing consumers with more choices, and reducing emissions of toxic pollutants and greenhouse gases. These are key reasons why other states and nations are establishing similar programmes”.

The report states that renewable liquid fuel displaced over 568 million gallons of diesel in 2018. From the start of the project in 2011 almost 3.3 billion gallons of petroleum diesel have been displaced by cleaner alternatives.


Recent Issues